Tuesday, May 9, 2017

We Sold Our Soul For Hardcore: Lifes Halt!

Lifes. Halt. If you saw this band in the flesh, then you get it. I don't have to explain, you can just skip down below and start reading the excerpts from their chapter. If not, just go here for an intense second hand experience and then start reading. That intensity in their music and delivery still holds up today. The messages, whether screamed in English or español, are still to the point in 2017. Everyone they reached walked away with a strong impression and their reach was far. For a little band from LA that never released a stand-alone LP, never left North America, and broke up way too fuckin' soon, their impact was great. I think I have received more comments about this band from more corners of the world than any other. If you still aren't sure, go here and then read on. Big, giant thanks to everyone for sharing their stories!!

PS: The stories of What Happens Next and Lifes Halt are unavoidably linked. This will be captured in full in a later chapter devoted to the Start Something split LP and tour. So just be patient...

PPS: Grammar sins abound!

We Sold Our Soul For Hardcore

Lifes Halt

Ernesto Torres (Lifes Halt) I lived in Bell Gardens, which is by East LA. The big thing back then was backyard gigs. You just went to all these backyard gigs. You saw a lot of bands that barely had a tape, most of the bands didn’t have anything. It was cool cuz’ it was just these ragtag people that just happen to have a bass or guitar and they’d form a band. It was totally local. And very violent. Which is pretty crazy, cuz’ you’d be going to East LA and there's all these cholos, and you’re going to a show. Violence wasn’t as bad as in the ‘80s but it was still pretty bad in the early to mid-90s.

Félix Reyes (Lifes Halt, No Reply) Me and Ernie and Charlie met in 1995 at a skating spot at USC by my house…I saw one day that somebody had a backpack that was on the ground and had a Minor Threat patch on it and had some straight edge stuff on it. I clearly identified with Minor Threat and was “this is cool, whose backpack is this?” and it turned out to be Ernie’s. That's how we met and we started skateboarding together and we started going to shows together. At that point time, Ernie and Charlie were really big into Strife. I would accompany them and go to the shows and I was really excited and happy because there's so much energy to it.

Ernesto Torres Charlie the guitar player, I knew him the longest. I lived in Bell Gardens. He lived in Bell Gardens, but he went to a different school and through skating, that's how I met him. He played guitar. So we skated and then we met Felix, the bass player, through skating. I might have seen him at a show - like Sick Of It All at a fest and he got kicked out. We were just skating somewhere at USC and I just happened to see him. I’m like “you’re the dude who got kicked out!”

Félix Reyes We did start a band at that time when we realized that we all played something. That was in ’95, that band was called Revulsion. We played a few shows and actually the last song on the Lifes Halt demo from ‘97 is a song that Revulsion had to tried to put together…Revulsion was mostly playing backyard shows.

Ernesto Torres We met and I don’t know if we ever talked about “yeah we should start a band,” it just kinda’ happened. From what I remember now, one day we were just playing in a band.

Félix Reyes A few years later, lo and behold, we had Lifes Halt.

Jon Westbrook (No Reply, Lifes Halt, Knife Fight) I knew them from the record store and was friends with them and suddenly one day they said they had a band.

Ernesto Torres The spirit that we had was early LA bands. That was us, but musically it was totally not that. It was just that idea. We just wanted to be fucking crazy and play and hang out. Musically, we were all pretty different. Felix, he had his own thing. I had my own thing. Charlie was off somewhere else.

Félix Reyes I had discovered what is known as Nardcore. I found those records for really cheap, a friend of mine had this old record store in Hollywood called Green Hell. He was like “oh you like you like hardcore or skate punk? You should check out Agression, you should check out Scared Straight.” They were so prevalent throughout LA because that stuff was like 10 or more years older. It was kind of not in-the-day and they had made so many of those records that they were just around everywhere, so I got a lot of cool stuff. That's the stuff that got me excited because I liked how fast it was and it had some melody and some rhythm.

Ernesto Torres We loved, of course Black Flag. We were way into Suicidal, that’s how the whole bandana thing came in.

Jon Westbrook They showed up and they play at a friend’s yard and were just awesome. There was a point in the middle of their set that all four of them were off the ground. Knocking all their cabinets and drums over, somersaulting into each other, doing wrestling moves. Those early shows were just bonkers. Which is funny because everyone talks about how No Justice was just the craziest band they’d ever seen…They were nothing compared to those early Lifes Halt shows. It was just complete chaos. Ernie sounds like he’s singing to a different band and is jump-kicking into Charlie who falls backwards into his amp, knocks it all over and the drummer stands up and kicks the drum set over. It happened every time they played.

Ernesto Torres We just wanted to fuckin’ go out there and just be crazy. Not crazy like punch some dude in the face, but maybe. We just wanted to go out there and put energy into what we did. These assholes that I used to play with, they were always kicking my ass like, “dude, can you be a little more energetic.”

Félix Reyes Ernie was a big driver in it all, as far as the art.

Ernesto Torres I didn’t have any musical talent, but I can draw, so that was my way of contributing.

Félix Reyes He did 99% of Lifes Halt art and also he wrote 99% of the lyrics, especially early on. He had cool ideas and we would talk about them. We were all pretty stoked on stuff that he was saying. I think there was a lot of stuff that we were already again being informed by, outside of the music or punk or skateboarding world. Things a little more political. I can think of that song “In My Face” on the 7" that is about aggressive advertising in lower income neighborhoods.

Ernesto Torres The demo that we made at this magical space somewhere, I don’t know, it might have been Santa Barbara. We made this tape and we would just send it out to labels that we liked. We sent one to Max. At the time, we didn't know Max. We sent it to Youngblood and it just so happened that Youngblood was the first one to contact us…that’s how the 7” came along. We started corresponding with Joe and Shawn.

Félix Reyes Certainly the 7” on Youngblood is what exposed the band to a lot of other people that had a lot to do with the band at that time and then afterwards.

Ernesto Torres Around the time that the PCH was around, that's really when it felt right. You knew everybody. It just felt a lot more intimate, around the mid-90s…It was this really underground space in Long Beach in the middle of nowhere. Literally just train tracks, refineries, it was just industrial. That’s where most of the shows were happening at that time.

Félix Reyes The PCH club was happening and our first show there, the guy that booked us, Reggie, who played in a noisy powerviolence band called Gasp, he booked us and I don’t think he had heard us, or maybe Ernie gave him the demo. He described us as “thrashy manic, fastcore” on the flyer… I remember seeing that and reading it and I think me and Ernie were like “what? Thrashy? Manic? Fastcore? What are you talking about?”… We started seeing it and hearing it especially applied to us as we became more associated with What Happens Next. Likewise, I don't think we fully applied the label to ourselves. We kind of let it just do what it did.

Ernesto Torres Growing up in LA, everybody speaks Spanish. It was never really a conscious thing for me like, oh I need to sing in Spanish because it’s my heritage. It’s not until after a while oh fuck, it just started hitting me more, “damn dude, you're fucking Mexican, you need to celebrate it a little bit more!”

Félix Reyes It had a huge influence on us politically and with our cultural identity in the way that we positioned ourselves and saw ourselves in the overall scene, was discovering Los Crudos was huge for us. I can remember the day, the moment when me and Ernie were record shopping at this old record store called Zed records in Long Beach. We’re going through the 7”s and Ernie pulls out this record, it was the first Crudos record with the glued on parts of the cover on the plastic sheet, and it was all kind of weird, but it was in Spanish.

Ernesto Torres I'm a Mexican citizen, you know, I'm a Mexican. I just for some reason have a little pride in that sense.

Félix Reyes It wasn't immediately apparent. On our first 7” we don’t have anything that is in Spanish or alludes to that perhaps except for a couple of themes in a couple of songs. It had a huge impact. Later on, if you look at the Lifes Halt releases, they’re singing more in Spanish, they’re singing more about these issues, their sound is perhaps rawer and less youth crew.

Noel Sullivan (Lifes Halt, Holier Than Thou) They were recording in Goleta one time and I went to go hang out with them. They were like, “we have this tour coming up, but the drummer can’t go” and I was like, “holy shit, I can play drums, I'm not really doing anything, maybe I can play.”

Félix Reyes Noel is a good guy and we love him to death and certainly he was the butt of our many jokes, but that motherfucker gave it back.

Ernesto Torres (Lifes Halt and No Reply) were just friends and that was our first tour and so we were just itching to go. It organically happened like, “oh you just started a band, let’s do a record, let’s go on tour.”

Félix Reyes It was two bands in a pretty small van.

Ernesto Torres Get your smelly friends, get in a van and just go. That to me was the embodiment of what we were doing.

Jon Westbrook We basically drove straight from LA to Chicago and then across the northern US over to Boston, New York and then down to Virginia to play Virginia Beach.

Félix Reyes We drove nonstop from Los Angeles, California to Omaha, Nebraska to play a show the following day. That was fucking bananas, man.

Noel Sullivan Everyone was more sober. It wasn’t like we were straight edge bands, everyone was just still young and pretty chill. That was pretty rad. There was definitely a lot eating.

Félix Reyes Dave Mandel likes the bands enough that he wants to put out a split 7” and he was doing some type of series, I remember. I think he did other split 7”s. Dave Mandel liked to have fun, we did a stupid amount of - this Is funny because it’s definitely contradictory - but we did a stupid amount of limited covers and alternative covers for that split 7”.

Jon Westbrook As far as I knew there was the colored vinyl that was supposed to be for mailorder and we did that one with the Simpsons stuff on it and that was for the tour. So there is supposed to be a tour press, a mailorder version and a regular version and then Ernie just started making covers for all sorts of different events.

Ernesto Torres Record collecting was cool, but it became silly…We would make covers just to piss people off.

Félix Reyes It was sort of like playing off of that aspect of the culture of record collecting and limited presses and colored vinyl that was so prevalent at the time.

Jon Westbrook My grand contribution to it was why don’t you guys make a ton of fake covers, put a big collage with the real covers on there and make that a cover. From that point forward, people actually thought that all of those covers existed. I know even on the Indecision website it said that there were 23 of all them but there weren’t. I think there were eight total.

Félix Reyes I remember Ernie being quite critical of that stuff, but also having fun with it and sort of doing it to be a facetious little jerk…“Oh yeah, limited version? Here’s 50 of them!”

Ernesto Torres No Reply broke up and Jon Westbrook didn’t have a band. He was always around so we were like, “do you want to join the band?” He is one of those interesting guys, not in a good way or a bad way, he’s just different.

Jon Westbrook I really liked it just because I really liked the band. I would go to as many shows and I could, so I was excited to join the band and take over the world. That's what it seemed like at the time. Every time we played somewhere else, it was getting bigger and bigger.

Ernesto Torres I wanted to bring some of that energy to Lifes Halt.

Jon Westbrook Those guys were outgoing and talking to everybody and making friends everywhere they went. The band was fun and energetic.

Félix Reyes Much like the split 7” with No Reply, it almost seemed like a natural thing to happen between Lifes Halt and What Happens Next. We were such good friends, very supportive of each other and had a cut-from-the-same-cloth type vibe.

Ernesto Torres I remember we played Mission Records, I believe and Robert (Collins) was at the show and he was so into it. Mind you, I was in my early 20s, Felix and them were like 19. Robert at the time, he was in his 30s. We were like fuck dude, you’re this old and you’re way into it! So we were feeding off that energy…later that night we played another show in some youth center…and he drove all the way out there with his old lady to go see us.

Félix Reyes We became good friends. We have a lot of respect for each other. At that time, it just made sense that we would play with such a band and that they would play with us because we were one of a handful of bands that had that general, older style hardcore approach.

Ernesto Torres We really looked up to those guys. They were awesome people. They really helped us out with a lot. Robert booked the whole second tour that we did, booked everything, did all the work. He was just full of energy, gung-ho, always ready to go.

Félix Reyes At that time already, they were like seasoned DIY professionals. They had been across the world in different bands. They had toured. They had put out records and so they certainly of course put us up even more. They put us under their wing. They had this aesthetic. They had this term or this label that was associated with us.

Ernesto Torres We started taking in things around us, like the people, the places, things that were happening. It just came about. At that point we had met a lot of people and just felt really lucky and just wanted to express that a little bit more…I think that was a six-week tour. You tell Robert, “hey we’re gonna’ go on tour.” He’s like “ok we’ll be gone for like half a year.” I don’t know if you know that about Robert and those guys, they don’t fuck around…Robert is still like that to this day.

Félix Reyes We were certainly pushed forward by them, but not forced forward, we were having a great time. We wanted to continue playing and potentially putting out records and they only got us more excited by one, being enthusiastic about us - our band and who we were personally - and about wanting to do things together.

Ernesto Torres Things were evolving for us at that time. We just felt really lucky that we had a lot of support. People were really into us. We felt at that point, definitely part of something bigger.

Noel Sullivan Ernie and Felix just didn't see eye to eye on a lot of shit, for whatever reason, you could call it creative differences.

Félix Reyes We may have perceived this pressure to be a leader in the scene. We were kind of like sidekicks to What Happens Next.

Ernesto Torres There was a lot of things going on. I think me and Felix started having a little fallout…I think it was expressed, if we don't go to tour Europe or somewhere else, we’re just gonna fuckin end it. It was not really happening, we couldn't really come together.

Félix Reyes There really is something unknown between what happened between me and Ernie, perhaps that he and I tried maybe once in the past 15 years to address but didn't get anywhere. There's probably other factors too. He and I definitely after the band broke up just drifted way apart.

Ernesto Torres We always got along, but for me personally, I got a little fed up… We reached the end of the friendship, we all wanted to do different things. Charlie wanted to concentrate more on school.

Jon Westbrook I didn't fully understand. When you’re sitting in the van for six weeks with somebody and eventually you start to get on each other's nerves. Basically, as soon as we got home they were like we’re gonna’ break up in a few months. The rest of us spent that whole time trying to get them to reconsider, but they just didn't want to do it anymore.

Félix Reyes Much like I think that they had shit going on. They probably thought that I was being irrational or unreasonable.

Ernesto Torres I like being a front man, but it’s not like I like writing lyrics. I supposed I was over it a little bit.

Jon Westbrook Me, Noel and Charlie didn't want to break up. We're like this tour went really well. People in Europe are constantly emailing us, we’re getting stuff from Japan, we could play South America. Why would we stop here?

Noel Sullivan We were gonna’ try to do Europe, we we're getting a lot of people hitting us up over there. That would have been awesome but it had just run its course.

Ernesto Torres Man, you want to talk about a last show, fuck, that was awesome! We saw a ton of our friends all over the place…Tear It Up came and played. We had our friends. It was at The Smell. Back then The Smell I think comfortably could hold 300 to 400 people, but there was so many people there it was ridiculous. For us, that was really the measure our success. Just like being able to bring people (together), people that wanted to see us play. That's all we want! It’s not about money or some kind of fame. We just had all our friends there. It was definitely special to have that many people there.

Jon Westbrook That was the most packed I had ever seen that venue, The Smell. Usually there’s only 100 people and I want to say like 600 people showed up.

Noel Sullivan That was a crazy fucking show, dude.

Félix Reyes To hear about people and meet people that had come a long distance for that was just really kind of mind-boggling and just really special. The fact that we were actually going through with just ending it all and realizing how much it meant to people that they would want to travel far to see that. It was bittersweet.

Robert Collins (What Happens Next?) Their last show was next level. I hadn't cried that hard in years. I spent the last half of that set literally singing along and sobbing. I remember sitting down on the back of the stage just shattered after it was done.

Ernesto Torres That one got me. That one choked me up, man. Rob came over after, he was in tears. He gave me a hug and I think we fell to the ground…I just can't say enough about that, just the support we just got from everybody there.

Robert Collins Something ended. That show was really, really, really special. That band was really special.

Noel Sullivan We had already done what we were going to do. Hardcore bands don't usually last that long.

Félix Reyes I don’t talk to Jon or Charlie or Noel on a regular basis, but if and when I see them or come in contact with them, it's like “oh hey what's up?” With Ernie, we don't come into contact at all and when we have it's always been kinda contentious, it's weird. I think it stems from the fact that I think I was the one that sort of initiated the “hey you know what, man, we’re done.”

Ernesto Torres I think as we grew as a band, some people changed. For the most part, we all got along pretty good. I personally don't talk to anybody in the band for no real reasons. The only person I really don't talk to is Felix.

Félix Reyes It was a feeling that I can't describe. I couldn't of described back then, much less now.

Ernesto Torres We were just seeing things differently, he didn’t get my sister pregnant or anything.

Félix Reyes It strikes me that it actually had an impact on not only the time and people living participating at the time, but like the years after, and even in the later ‘00s - maybe not so much the 2010s - but hearing from people and being hit up by people for reunion shows and people saying like, “there's a Latino fest in LA and it would be awesome if Lifes Halt played, all the kids would love to see Lifes Halt.” Hearing from friends that are still in LA and going to shows and in the scene that kids that came after look back on and respect the band.

Jon Westbrook Europe, South America, Japan, that band could’ve gone everywhere if the band hadn’t broken up.

Noel Sullivan You know what is fucking crazy is in Malaysia, they all knew I was in it! It was tripping everyone out, me included. If we toured Malaysia right now it would be fucking insane! They are obsessed with Lifes Halt in Malaysia!

Félix Reyes Thinking that people look back on it, or people that did not see it, would hold it in some regard as a meaningful and important thing…it’s proof that people did care and do care.

Ernesto Torres We were one of those bands, we just didn’t care. We would play anywhere, anytime with anybody.

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